Saturday, February 4, 2012

Transition in Action, Totnes and District 2030 Energy Descent Action Plan

Transition in Action
Totnes and District 2030
Energy Descent Action Plan
Edited by Jacqui Hodgson with Rob Hopkins
Reviewed by Bill Sharp

The goal of the Transition Towns model is to transform the energy economy of a local community.  By energy is meant a lot more than oil, gas and coal.  Our energy economy is also every thing that requires energy for its production and distribution.

This transformation is achieved through an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP).  Make no mistake about it; the EDAP is a major undertaking.  Reducing energy dependence, our carbon footprint and finding alternatives is no simple matter.  The EDAP Goal is a 20 year project to not only dramatically reduce consumption but to maintain or even improve the quality of our lives.
The EDAP is the major product of a Transition Town (TT).  The guide for forming a Transition Town is found in The Transition Companion (see review by clicking here).  The EDAP itself is only the beginning of the sustainability transformation of the community but by the time it is completed, much of the infrastructure for completing the plan is already in place.  And that is an important part of the EDAP process.
Trying to read Transition in Action like a textbook will be frustrating.  There is a better way.  Take it from the top down, layer by layer, rather than cover to cover, to avoid getting lost in the forest of details.  Hopkins and friends have made an art of presenting complex ideas in a clear manner.  It appears that Christopher Alexander’s (architect) pattern language, that inspired The Transition Companion, is already at work.  This gives you a lot of useful information between the covers.
The book is a large format, 8 ½ by 11, paper bound, with plentiful use of graphics.  It is divided into three parts, with appendices:
Part 1 is a short introduction:  Where we started from.
Part 2 is also brief:  Creating a new story.
Part 3 is the main course, some 250 pages but also broken down into several distinct and coherent themes.
The Appendix contains a lot of references, links and a glossary of key terms.

Part 1:  Where we started from.

There are three compelling assumptions upon which this work, and the Transition Towns movement, is based:
1.      Peak oil
2.      Climate change
3.      Economic instability
The question is: How do local communities deal with these issues?
The story of the past century or more has been one of energy; particularly that energy packed liquid fuel, petroleum.  A quart (I’m using American equivalent measures) of oil, Hopkins likes to say, contains about as much energy as a worker can produced in a month of hard manual work.  (There are actually 140,000 calories of energy in a quart of oil and 125,000 in a quart of gasoline.)  We have built a stupendous industrial civilization with oil, cheap oil.  But is it a non-renewable resource.  We have used some 1,200 billion barrels of petroleum, which evidence suggest is about half of the recoverable reserve.  That was the easiest to get to.  It is already getting more expensive and more risky to produce oil (and gas).
Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide.  A gallon of gasoline produces 19.5 pounds of carbon dioxide (which does not count the amount created in producing and delivering it).  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased some 100 parts per million since the start of the industrial revolution.  It now stands at 392 ppm.  Half of that has appeared in the last third of a century.  The rate over the last ten years has been about 2 ppm per year. The current level is the highest in at least 800,000 years, possibly 20 million years.
Carbon dioxide is one of a number of greenhouse gases.  These gases have the property of absorbing heat.  They work like glass over a greenhouse to capture and hold the heat of the sun.  The temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans has been steadily rising in step with the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The consequences are melting polar ice, coastal flooding, increasing numbers of violent storms and shifting climate patterns which themselves affect the wellbeing of huge numbers of people all over the Earth.
Climate change has economic consequences.  Even more so does the cost of energy.  There is now agreement that energy cost was a factor in the Great Recession of 2008 and general acknowledgement that rising energy cost is a detriment to economic recovery.  The growing scarcity of oil and coal will have a tremendous impact on the manufacturing sector which uses them as feedstock to make many of our commodities.
Not all agree about climate change.  Ironically, some who love the way science makes weapons don’t believe the science of climate change (The Pentagon does.).  Pro-development interests tend to deny global warming, at least human causation.  To admit it would make reducing emissions a moral imperative.  They fear that doing so would curb economic development.  In fact, rebuilding our energy system would create jobs and profits just as building the current carbon energy system did.



The first Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) was developed in 2005 by a group of students at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, a class taught by Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins.  It is a comprehensive work in its own right.  That plan can be found by clicking here.
The decline of North Sea oil production a decade ago was a shock to the British economy.  Of greater psychological impact, however, was a strike of truck drivers in the UK in 2000 over a proposed fuel tax.  When the trucks stopped, the “just-in-time” delivery system ground to a halt taking the country to the verge of a food crises as market shelves begin to empty.  Fuel prices have, of course, risen dramatically since then.
The disruption of essential services raises the issue of how a local community will manage such emergencies.  The response is called “resilience;” a term used in biology that describes how an organism adjusts to sudden stresses in its environment.  We need to make our communities just as adaptable.
The response to our vulnerability to the global economy is called relocalization:  strengthening the capacity of the local community to meet its needs for basics goods and services produced close by.  Relocalization allows us to manage how we secure our basic needs.  Because the producers are neighbors, it also insures higher quality and reliability of food, durable goods and services.  This is not to say that there will not be considerable long-distance commerce.  Trade has always been a major part of strong societies.
Hopkins and friends launched Transition Town Totnes (TTT) in 2006.  In 2008 he published a book about the experiences gained at Totnes and a number of other emerging Transition Towns (TTs) in the UK, The Transition Handbook.  In 2009, after three years of TTT, a survey was conducted of 220 households around Totnes to see what kind of affect the project was having.  Three-quarters of those surveyed were familiar with TTT and a third had participated in some activity.  Of those who had participated, nearly two-thirds had attended talks or workshops, eight percent were involved in garden shares and one-fifth had taken an active role in one of 11 workgroups that helped develop the EDAP.  That translates into an estimated 155 people regularly involved (in a community of some 9,000).

Part 2.  Creating a New Story

The Totnes EDAP is rooted in the history of the area.  Totnes is a town that was ancient when Columbus discovered the New World.  Like many British communities, World War II was its finest hour.  The story of the community has changed a lot since then. 
The new story assumes that the future will be challenging, that change is on the way.  Many, of course, believe it will be business as usual, hopefully a growing economy.  Some see Mad Max.  Some dream of a Star Trek future.  Transition Towns asks:  What would a lean energy future look like?
The writing of the new story began with a dive into the local historical archives.  Oral history interviews then tapped the still living memories of the war years and even before.  There was a considerable local food economy in the past.  The survey asked about energy, lighting, appliances and transportation, then and now.  The questions included:  What lessons can be learned from the past?  What needs to be preserved?  And what can be relegated to history?
The research incorporated current economic conditions and demographics.  Totnes is a cluster of 16 parishes.  It is a market center, as it has always been.  It is a center of art and culture.  It is the home of Schumacher College; devoted to sustainability.  Businesses are small.  A large part of the economy is tourism.  Many of its residents work in other cities.  There are a lot of retired people.
They also tell the story of Transition Town Totnes.  Founded in late 2005 the project was “officially unleashed” in 2006.  With the publication of The Transition Handbook, TTT became the center of a rapidly growing moment in the UK and around the world; an achievement they take pride in.
“TTT has always considered itself a catalyst, its role being to inspire and nurture projects, and to support them with fundraising, office facilities, networking and so on.”  A number of projects came out of this effort including garden share (community gardens), a local food directory, Totnes Pound, Reskilling (garden related training), energy audits, seed exchanges, study courses, Renewable Energy Society (a community owned energy company) and other activities. 
The EDAP was a product of the TTT “Energy Descent Pathways project.”  This project, which was funded by two agencies, drew all the threads together.  The EDAP was completed and published May 2010.  An online version can be found at

Basic Framework for the EDAP

There are four basic assumptions in the Transition Town model:
1.      That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than be taken by surprise
2.      That our communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil
3.      That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now
4.      That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy future, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet
A number of tools and activities were developed:
1.      A framework for understanding the forces at work including a survey of local conditions, oral histories and finally the detailed survey of 220 households.
2.      A future vision:  a 10 meter long “Transition Timeline,” public discussions, posters and such.
3.      Engaging the community:  Open space meetings, working groups, practical projects, talks to local groups, media coverage, and meeting with key people.
4.      The Public Launch:  September 2008, a celebratory community gathering.
5.      Two rounds of themed public workshops; the first about current issues and concluding with a vision for 2030.  The second round developed future scenarios. 
6.      Back casting:  reverse development of the scenarios from then to now.  This puts the details into the plan.
7.      Drafting the EDAP and discussing it:  How do we get there?  Pathways included awareness, education, engagement, fostering links, empowerment, greater equity and life balance, giving something back to society.  The plan went through several drafts, a widening audience of discussion and posting it on the web site for comments.
8.      Implementing the EDAP. 

Part 3. A Timeline to 2030

Timelines are visual projections of the EDAP.  Timelines are stories of the future moving towards the vision of the community in 2030.  They ask us to image where the community would be at various stages over the twenty years of implementing the plan.

Joined-Up Thinking:  Totnes 2030

The first Timeline is the broad picture of the community as a whole.  In twenty years, sixty percent of food is grown locally, people live closer to where they work, which helps realize dramatic reductions in transportation energy, far more contact with other people; a quieter and calmer town, small local markets.  Oil consumption goes down from nine barrels per person per year to one barrel; incidentally producing lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Half of energy is produced locally.  Waste is virtually eliminated. 


How is progress measured?  The plan provides a list of 20 indicators.  The list puts heavy emphasis on more participative community decision making and community organization.  A strong Community, Enterprise and Development organization was established.  There are regular evaluations of progress towards sustainability.


The first “Timeline of Change” unfolds across ten pages (The online version of the book lacks the graphics of the printed publication.).  This Timeline embraced the strategic themes of peak oil, climate change, stabilizing population increasing renewable energy supplies, repairing biodiversity, reducing excess consumption and waste to zero, maintaining clean water supplies with less energy inputs.
The Timeline starts with the year the Transition Town “goes mainstream,” for Totnes 2009.  Eight paragraphs headline important relevant news for that year.  The following three years are treated individually but as the timeline continues it uses blocks of three to five year intervals. 
There is a contingency plan, an emergency management scenario in case a downturn in conditions goes faster than anticipated and to address the anticipated effects of such contingencies as natural disasters and economic slumps.


The bulk of Part 3 of Transition in Action is grouped into five themed parts:
1.      Working with Nature
2.      Creative Energy System
3.      Resourcing Localization
4.      Nurturing Transition
5.      Empowering People.
Each of these parts is divided into a series of topics.  Let’s look at the outline of “Working with Nature.”  The topics included are:
Ø  Food Security:  Can Totnes and District Feed Itself?
Ø  Food Production and Farming
v  Transition in Action
v  TTT’s Garden Share Scheme
v  Totnes and District Local Food guide
v  The Nut Tree Planting Project
Ø  Health and Wellbeing
v  Transition in Action
v  Totnes Healthy Future
Ø  Water Matters
Ø  Supporting biodiversity – the web of life


Local Foods

The second section, on food production and farming, goes into more detail about how food localization can be brought about.  The UK is heavily dependent on foreign grown food, most of which could, and at one time was, grown locally.
The first item on this list, “Can Totnes and District Feed Itself?” is a funded paper using GIS mapping resources.  It is a sophisticated work worthy of professional planning departments.  The text of this paper can be found by clicking here
The priority objectives, the focus of the first 10-15 years of the plan, can be summarized as:
·         Build and increase the market for local food
·         Increase the physical and political infrastructure for local food growing, processing and distribution
·         Changes to land legislation, including planning laws to open up land for food production
·         Decrease the distance between producers and consumers
·         Utilize available resources for urban agriculture
·         Produce food with minimal imported materials in a sustainable manner
The resilience indicators, the measures of progress, are listed as:
·         The percentage of the population with basic food production skills
·         The percentage of the population who feel confident in cooking with fresh produce
·         The percentage of food consumed locally which has been also grown locally
·         The number of people who feel they have access to good advice, skills and retraining in basic food production
·         The percentage of land (agricultural & urban) under utilization for food production
·         Rates of obesity and chronic heart disease
·         The average body mass index
This section has its own ten page “Pathways Across the Timeline,” with the strategic themes of:  Localizing Food consumption; linking farmers, growers and consumers-promoting awareness; producing more local food; develop skills, resources and capacity; develop land use; legislation for localizing food production and consumption. The topic headers for this timeline include:  Conditions affecting individuals, the community, producers and work for policy makers and service providers.  The first year is news that happened, and it is an impressive list.  The second year is projected news of events unfolding.  The Timeline moves through the years to 2026 -- 2030 which describes how Totnes will look when the plan is brought to fruition. 
Each section unfolds in the same basic pattern.  This adds consistency to the plan.  Each section contains a body of facts worthy of the local planning department.  They are, however, from a Transition Towns sustainability perspective rather than the usual growth management perspective.

Heart and Soul

The last two themes, “Nurturing Transition” and “Empowering People,” move from visioning and planning to people and process.
Nurturing Transition has three sections:
Ø  Arts, Culture, Media and Innovation
Ø  Inner Transition
Ø  Education, Awareness and Skills for Transition
Empowering People also has three sections:
Ø  Local Governance
Ø  Community Matters
Ø  Youth Issues
These two themes may be considered the beginning and the end of the EDAP.  The Transition process begins with developing a community of interest; a community of participation.  It begins with awareness building, with meetings, with artistic presentation that embrace graphics and performing arts. 
From the beginning the psychological stresses of change are recognized.  In a very real sense the Transition Towns model goes beyond the three E’s, Environment, Energy and Economy, to the root issue:  the loss of a sense of connection with and control over the events of our lives.  Our lives are anxiety driven.  We feel alienated.  We feel ill.  Americans, for example, take a lot of mood-altering drugs (legal and not), sleep aids and stomach remedies.  We are out of shape.  Heart and Soul is an important service of Transition Towns.

An Integral Model

One of the things that impressed me about the Totnes EDAP is that it is an integral model:  all the pieces fit together.  This can be expected in a model that has permaculture close to its heart. 
From the time TTT was unleashed, more than three years were taken in developing the EDAP.  Obviously this effort took organization, leadership and management, skill and expertise.  It took funding.
The TT model does not ask government to take on the job.  This is an important feature of the model.  Governments are not about this type of social transformation.  They are about managing public affairs.  They are bureaucracies governed by law and regulation.  They are short of funds and staff and increasingly so.  Local planning is largely about growth and its consequences.  Energy conservation is there mostly because it is about cutting cost. 
A growing number of cities and towns across the US have undertaken, and take great pride in, plans to achieve greater sustainability.  In every case there is a strong citizen contingent providing volunteers, expertise, material, money and time.  Transition Towns is not, therefore, in competition with government; it seeks rather to take on a job that someone needs to do.  Eventually, as a new transition culture emerges, local governance will reflect that new voice of the community. 
As stated at the beginning of this review, one of the best features of the EDAP is that by the time it is completed much of the infrastructure is already in place to carry it out.  Most of what we call “planning” ends as a document.  After it is done, if the project goes forward at all, there is typically an extended procedure of approval, organization, budgeting and all the details that come with carrying it out.  Too often the people who carry out the plan are not the ones who prepared it.  The EDAP is a work in progress.  The Timeline itself begins with “where we are” and moves directly into the coming year’s effort; work that is already under way.  It’s like the Eveready Bunny.
The EDAP, like any plan, requires money to make it work.  Another positive feature of this process is that the TT process can be largely self funding.  TTs, almost by definition, are about strengthening local economies.  A local economy seeks to create wealth by promoting local products and thereby mobilizing capital within the local economy.  It tries to keep as much of that wealth as possible within the community.  The model includes a local currency to encourage this recirculation of wealth.  In a matter of a few years this can produce far more capital than grants, incentives and public revenues.

Ways and Means

Hundreds of Transition Towns around the world have taken on the task of creating an alternative and sustainable future for their community.  Each does what it needs to do with the resources available.  For any number of reasons, not all will develop a formal EDAP.
The purpose of this series of reviews on this blog site is to explore what is required to create a formal EDAP.  This review of Transition in Action was an eye-opener.  A close reading of this document provided not only a model for an EDAP but told how it was produced.  That itself is an important element in each TT community’s understanding of its capacity to undertake such a process.
Many TTs see the model as a means and not an end.  Some, however, may aspire, like Totnes, to put their community on the map as a center of innovation.  That takes planning and management, the forming of associations with government, business and academia, likely founding of a nonprofit organization, funding and a sustained effort.  The model developed by Totnes is a good one but not the only one.  Hopkins has recommended that these plans be adapted to different national cultures and to the needs of each locale.  One wonders what forms local EDAPs may take in the United States as they are developed.
Bill Sharp
State College Pennsylvania
February 4, 2012

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